MTV is working off some of its karmic debt incurred by Jersey Shore with its new teen comedy,Awkward. Combining the best parts of Easy A and the much-missed Daria—can we get a “where are they now?” special for the graduates of Lawndale High?—Awkward. finds the calmly skeptical Jenna (Ashley Rickards) dealing with the effect of the entire school’s eyes on her after the rumor mill starts working overtime over a nasty spill she took in the bathroom. Even her parents think she’s tried to kill herself, but they must not be paying attention, because Jenna is clearly too smart, too deprecating and too witty to bother with offing herself.
Where Awkward. succeeds is in both Rickards’ performance (as winning on the small screen as Emma Stone’s breakout turn inEasy A) and in its slightly skewed take on the usual high school tropes. There’s the hunky crush (Beau Mirchoff), but he has a habit of sniffing his armpits to check their freshness. The bitchy cheerleader is very much in evidence, but she’s a chubby brunette, not a tan blond. And Jenna’s best friends aren’t the lovelorn losers who won’t steal focus from the lead; they’re arty weirdos that John Hughes would have created if he were working in the age of sexting and iPads, here given intriguing life by Jillian Rose Reed and Jessica Lu.
On top of aiming for a fresh take on high school angst, Awkward. is flat-out funny. Mean girl Sadie (Molly Tarlov) gets the best lines (as mean girls usually do) when she says things like, “She should go to Thailand because only a pedophile would screw her. Maybe.” And MTV has also made the smart decision to bleep rather than write around the potty mouths of teens liberated by hormones and the ability to curse a blue streak in the halls.
This isn’t a dreamy high school comedy about prom or lesson learning; the heroine loses her virginity with nary a second thought in the opening moments of the pilot, and has a nudie pic of her texted throughout the school. Not to mention that whole attempted suicide plotline. But Awkward. succeeds because it dares to go dark; the writers have clearly done their homework, and they know that a Heathers will always outlast a High School Musical.
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